The Best and Worst Run States In America: A Survey of All Fifty

41st. Nevada
Debt per Capita: $9,419 (41st)
Unemployment Rate: 14.4% (50th)
Home Price Change (’06 – ’09): -34.1% (50th)
Median Household Income: $53,341 (18th)

Nevada has experienced particularly rough times, largely due to the recession’s impact on tourism to Las Vegas. The value of occupied homes has decreased an astounding 34.1%, the worst in the country. The state also has 14.4% unemployment, which is the highest in the country.  On top of all of this, violent crime rates are extremely high (at 727 per 100,000) making Nevada the second to most violent state in the country.

42nd. Florida
Debt per Capita: $7,666 (29th)
Unemployment Rate: 11.7% (46th)
Home Price Change (’06 – ’09): -20.9% (48th)
Median Household Income: $44,736 (38th)

Despite receiving the ninth-lowest rank, Florida maintains an amazing AAA rating from S&P, which is the only reason it didn’t rank as the worst state on our list. From 2006 to 2009, property values in the sunshine state dropped 20.9%, making it the third-worst in that category. Despite its significant number of older residents, Florida also ranks 47th in health insurance coverage and has the fourth-worst violent crime rate.

43rd. Illinois

Debt per Capita: $9,617 (42nd)
Unemployment Rate: 10.1% (41st)
Home Price Change (’06 – ’09): 1% (35th)
Median Household Income: $53,966 (17th)

Illinois finds itself with such a low ranking in part due to its high unemployment (10.10%) and in part due to its high debt per capita ($9,613.)  The state also suffers from poor fiscal governance, however, and received a credit rating of A+, the second worst S&P rating granted to all the states.

Tied for 44th. Mississippi

Debt per Capita: $4,516 (4th)
Unemployment Rate: 10% (38th)
Home Price Change (’06 – ’09): 10.6% (15th)
Median Household Income: $36,646 (50th)

Mississippi suffers from a cycle of poverty and poor education.  The state has the second lowest amount of citizens 25 and older with high school diplomas – only 80.4% graduate.  The state also has the greatest percentage of citizens living below the poverty rate, 21.9%, and the lowest GDP per capita, $24,293.  Also, Mississippi residents suffer from the highest rate of obesity in the country.
Bureau of Economic Analysis Data for State GDP, Census Bureau Population Data

Tied for 44th. South Carolina

Debt per Capita: $8,013 (34th)
Unemployment Rate: 11% (45th)
Home Price Change (’06 – ’09): 12.3% (10th)
Median Household Income: $42,442 (42nd)

South Carolina has done an admirable job at marketing itself as a tourist destination, and has the 10th best improvement in property values from 2006 to 2009. In terms of the economy, however, the Palmetto State is in the bottom ten in median household income, high school completion, and poverty rates. The state has the worst violent crime rate in the country- 731 per 100,000.

46th. Louisiana
Debt per Capita: $7,098 (24th)
Unemployment Rate: 7.6% (17th)
Home Price Change (’06 – ’09): 18% (3rd)
Median Household Income: $42,492 (41st)

While Louisiana ranks in the bottom 20% of states for most of the categories considered, including violent crime rate, percentage of people below the poverty rate, percentage of people 25 years and older who have completed high school, and median household income, the state remains an attractive place for many people to live.  It ranks third for occupied home value, boasting an increase of 18% between 2006 and 2009.

47th. Michigan
Debt per Capita: $7,547 (28th)
Unemployment Rate: 13.1% (49th)
Home Price Change (’06 – ’09): -13.8% (46th)
Median Household Income: $45,255 (34th)

Michigan, the home to America’s devastated auto industry, has the second-worst unemployment rate in the country, standing at 13.8%. The state is one of only six to be rated by S&P as having a credit rating of AA- or worse, likely due to the state’s unemployment crisis, as well as high crime rates and one of the worst drops in occupied home value in the country.

48th. Arizona
Debt per Capita: $6,607 (18th)
Unemployment Rate: 9.7% (36th)
Home Price Change (’06 – ’09): -20.6% (47th)
Median Household Income: $48,745 (23rd)

Arizona, showing up near the end of our rankings, suffers most severely from its poor S&P rating of AA-, which is second only to California, and the fact that between 2006 and 2009, occupied home prices dropped 20.6%.  Aside from these two points the state does not have particularly low standing in any category. It ranks so low because of its poor ratings in all categories.

49th. California

Debt per Capita: $9,228 (39th)
Unemployment Rate: 12.4% (48th)
Home Price Change (’06 – ’09): -28.3% (49th)
Median Household Income: $58,931 (9th)

While it does not quite rank as the worst state on our list, California stands out as being among the most poorly governed. The most populous state in the union has been mired in debt and political unrest for nearly a decade. It bears the unique honor of being the only state considered economically unstable enough to have its debts, at a record $341 billion, rated at an A- by S&P. It ranks 42nd in the country in health insurance coverage, despite having a state-sponsored health insurance program. The golden state also ranks 48th in high school completion. Between 2006 and 2009, California experienced the second worst household value decline, with occupied homes losing an average of nearly 30% percent of their value.

50th. Kentucky
Debt per Capita: $8,899 (37th)
Unemployment Rate: 10% (38th)
Home Price Change (’06 – ’09): 6.1%  (24th)
Median Household Income: $40,072 (47th)

Although Kentucky doesn’t place 50th in any one category, its overall poor scores secures its place as the worst-run state on our list. It is 43rd in GDP per capita, 47th in median household income, 47th in citizens with high school diplomas, and, at 18.6%, is 48th for percentage of the population below the poverty line.  Kentucky also has an extremely weak S&P rating of AA-, supporting our assessment that it is the worst-run state in the country.


24/7 Wall St. considered data from a number of sources, including Standard & Poor’s, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the National Conference of State Legislators, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the National Association of State Budget Officers.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics provided unemployment data, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis provided GDP per capita. Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s provided credit ratings for all 50 states. A significant amount of the  data we used came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Data from ACS included violent crime rate, unemployment rate, GDP per capita, percent below the poverty line, high school completion for those 25 and older, median household income, debt per capita, percent of the population without health insurance, and the change in occupied home values from 2006 to 2009.  The ACS released its 2009 numbers on Tuesday, September 28th, 2010. These are the values we used in our survey.  Once we reviewed the sources and compiled the final metrics, we ranked each state based on its performance in all the categories.

Douglas A. Mcintyre, Ashley C. Allen, Charles B. Stockdale, Michael B. Sauter